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TOPIC: The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism

The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #881

  • johndcgow
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To many ordinary football fans in Scotland, especially but not exclusively the Old Firm fans, the ‘war’ against sectarianism in football seems utterly bizarre. For these fans, especially the older fans, five years in prison for singing a song is unfathomable. More than this, the very fact that a song at a football match can lead to your arrest is treated with complete incomprehension. Nevertheless, this is the state of play today. In Scotland at least, much of the criminalisation of football fans has come in the guise of the fight against sectarianism.

Anti-sectarianism has become part of the fabric of life in Scotland, not just in politics, law, and football, but also in education. In schools, anti-sectarianism is now described as something that is at the heart of the new Curriculum for Excellence. ‘Education,’ the Scottish government notes, ‘can play a pivotal role in challenging sectarian attitudes and religious intolerance’. As such, anti-sectarian initiatives are crucial for developing ‘informed responsible citizens’.

It is not only children who need awareness training about sectarianism. In prisons this attempt to develop ‘positive attitudes’ was given a boost in 2011 when the funding for anti-sectarian training of prisoners was doubled. The success of this re-education process would be judged by illustrating the changed behaviour of those receiving the training. For example, prisoners would be encouraged to understand that cracking sectarian jokes was harmful, something that it was claimed had been successful in 50 percent of cases so far (Scotland on Sunday 25th September 2011). By November of 2011 it was announced that anti-sectarian training would also be available for the staff of the Scottish Parliament (Herald on Sunday 20th November 2011).

To be against sectarianism is a new norm in Scottish society, an unquestioned good, something that can unproblematically become part of school curriculums and the training of prisoners, even parliamentary staff. Sectarianism is also something that all politicians in parliament oppose and indeed something that has come to be vocally denounced by Scottish governments for the last decade. As Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Conservative leader explained at a debate in parliament, every single one of her MSPs is opposed to sectarianism.

At one level, opposition to sectarianism can be seen as a good thing. But to understand what is going on, we have to ask why now? Why and how has being against sectarianism become the new moral absolute, the new good, and something that the authorities feel needs to become part and parcel of all of our education?

Looking back at press coverage about sectarianism and the Old Firm from the early 1990s, what is fascinating is that the problem of Old Firm sectarianism was barely mentioned until 1997. Sectarianism at Old Firm games was simply not a political or significant pubic debating point mentioned in the Scottish broadsheets before this time. From only two articles on the subject in 1992 and 1993, in the latter part of the 1990s there were around 40 articles each year on the Old Firm and sectarianism. There was then a doubling of the number of articles in 2001 and a peak of interest in 2002 with 117 articles on the subject. Old Firm sectarianism remained of some significance until 2006 and then declined. In 2011 following the SNP’s campaign a new high of almost 200 articles were written about this ‘problem’ – one hundred times more articles than had been written in 1992.

What is most interesting about the rise and fall of interest in this issue was that it was not any rise in sectarianism that created it, but rather it was the rise in anti-sectarianism as a political, public and campaigning issue that generated the interest in sectarianism and the Old Firm. One way to describe this could be to say that the behaviour of fans did not change, what changed was the behaviour of the political elite. In essence, the Scottish authorities became less tolerant of Old Firm fans’ behaviour. From an issue that attracted little or no political interest, it became one of the most campaigned around issues in Scotland.

Aspects of this change can be witnessed by studying the changing attitudes of individuals. One example of this change can be seen in the approach taken to Old Firm sectarianism by the celebrated Scottish sports writer, Graham Spiers. Writing in the Scotland on Sunday back in 1996, Spiers challenged the exaggerated idea of bigoted football fans in an article entitled, ‘Glasgow’s sectarian image doesn’t bear close scrutiny’ (Scotland on Sunday 14th January 1996).

Insightfully observing the middle class preoccupation to go on and on about sectarianism, Spiers notes that: ‘In Glasgow, in the pubs and wine bars and especially around the hearths of the chattering classes, you wonder if we can't let go of the tough subject-matter of bigotry. You wonder if some of us would feel stripped naked if we couldn't continually hark on about this "hate-filled" city of ours. For a community that has made great strides in softening the divide, too many of us crave the expression of a bygone era.’

His own colleagues in the press were his next target of attack as he explained how, ‘We lay thick the heaving vocabulary of hate and venom and rancour, and before you know it word is back on the streets of the further disfigurement of society wherever Rangers and Celtic meet’. Spiers then outlined very well the myth and reality of Old Firm sectarianism behaviour: ‘There is a richly-titillating, but utterly empty, ritual about much of the Old Firm environment today. Remarkable and unremarkable men, who have good jobs and bad and who couldn't practice bigotry if they tried, nonetheless get swept into the firmament of these occasions. Before they know it they are hollering their heads off about the Queen or the Pope or both.’

Many of these people work together, drink together, play their five-a-side football in bantering friendship together, but for the Old Firm, for 90 minutes of screaming, they take choir stalls at opposite ends of the ground. Some of us who feel the fiery indignation well up within us misunderstand this aspect of contemporary Glasgow life.

Spiers mocks the English who take the Old Firm fans at their word before ridiculing the idea that there is a serious problem of violence between these fans. Having asked Strathclyde Police for the arrest figures for these ‘hate-filled’ encounters he found that only 24 people were arrested. These are, ‘stupendously paltry statistics’, he pointed out, ‘for peoples supposedly needing to tear the skin off each other’. The police officer giving Spiers these statistics even pointed out that, ‘A Rangers-Celtic game can sometimes be like a Sunday picnic’.

Turn the clock forward fifteen years and Graham Spiers is found at the Justice Committee debate on the Offensive Behaviour Bill supporting the criminalisation of Old Firm ‘sectarian’ songs. No longer prepared to tolerate (if disagree with) Billy Boys or IRA songs, Spiers asks, ‘Do you want to live in a country where thousands of people can shout ‘F’ the Pope?’. Spiers answer was that he did not and that was why he was supporting the Offensive Behaviour Bill. These songs, he continued, are ‘downright discrimination and prejudice’ and should therefore be made illegal. By 2011, Graham Spiers felt that these men who couldn’t practice bigotry if they tried, who worked together and drank together, whose bantering friendship meant that violence between them was stupendously paltry, should now be arrested for the songs they sang! One can only assume that the infectious ‘chattering classes’ harking on about our ‘hate-filled’ city, backed up by journalists’ vocabulary of ‘hate and venom’ had helped to disfigure Mr Spiers' understanding of a city’s image that in the past simply ‘didn’t bear close scrutiny’. Back in 1996 it seems that the hype about sectarianism and violence at Old Firm games was seen as nonsense by Graham Spiers. By 2011, this ‘Sunday picnic’ was facing the full wrath of the state. These games had become understood as a cause of domestic violence, a context where the police had ‘grown wearily accustomed to weeding out killers’ and a poisonous milieu that shamed Scotland. With the support of Spiers, a law that could imprison these fans for up to five years for their ‘sectarian’ behaviour was soon to be passed.

It is worth reiterating, the rise of anti-sectarianism did not emerge because of a rise in sectarian behaviour, or of sectarian violence; yet anti-sectarianism became a significant political, media, policing and legal matter in Scotland. As we have seen, the rise of interest in sectarianism has absolutely nothing to do with the behaviour of people on the terraces or on the streets. It has, on the contrary, everything to do with the activities and rhetoric of the Scottish elites and their establishment of a virtual industry of anti-sectarianism. It appears that the ‘chattering class’s’ moralising hatred of the Old Firm has taken centre stage.

Dr Stuart Waiton is lecturer in sociology at the University of Abertay Dundee. His new book ‘Snob’s Law: The Criminalisation of Football Fans in an Age of Intolerance’ is out now.
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The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #882

  • Rick Roberts
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Good article and a lot of truths and common sense put out there in the article. The trouble is that Spiers or Roseanna Cunningham or Peter Kearney are not, and never have been, concerned with truth or common sense – they have their objectives or agenda and that’s the end of that.

Reading as a Rangers fan I feel Dr Waiton has maybe missed an important aspect of Spiers change in attitude. Namely, Rangers fans, and Rangers fans alone, had become unacceptable. FTP had to go. And it did. Long ago. And yet his crusade against the Rangers support continued. I honestly can’t remember Spiers ever tackling the chicken and egg of the Billy Boys and IRA songs. The simple fact is open support for the IRA is endemic yet never gets a mention from the corduroy coward. He is incapable of digging deeper than his own pomposity to actually suggest workable cures for Scottish football or society. If he were really concerned he would’ve done that by now. He truely isn’t because he simply hasn't.
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The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #883

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Always find Dr Stuart Waiton's view to be very interesting. I've heard him speak at the Justice Committee debate and at Ibrox when he was doing a presentation for GersPride, organised by the RST.

Dr Waiton spoke about the problem of sectarianism in Scotland and highlighted that, in everyday life, there is simply no evidence to suggest that one exists. Pat Nevin at the time was comparing it to the racist problems in England when he played football there but such problems were seen to be part of life in that time - discriminating in areas like housing, education, employment etc. The same can't be said for sectarianism in Scotland I'm afraid, even if that does seem to contradict what many politicians believe.

A number of fans may point out that perhaps it is a good thing that we are now getting rid of sectarian views and songs in football and it would be difficult to argue with that I suppose. Personally however I felt this could have been achieved without the need for authoritarian legislation and over-policing at football grounds.

Following on from this article I now look forward to reading his "Snobs' Law" book which is coming out.
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The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #884

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Great article. Stuarts appearance at parly debating this with spiers just about the most entertaining political analysis likely to be seen in scotland in the present climate. Georgeous George appearance at us senate answering charges of being a saddam sympathicer only other parliament event to come close. As pointed out in earlier standard article on old firm, the people who built up the hatred aspect of rivalry most were those who profited by it most. Including the media,the gambling industry and alochol related licensed premises. Those people including corrupt spl-sfa cant have it both ways as will continue to unfold with loss of revenue without what became a permanent storm in teacup enviroment surrounding old firm. I remember a interview with Gerry Mcnee im the mentioned scotland on sunday around same time during which he admitted he had made a broadcasting career out of exploiting the perceived hatred of old firm fans on phone ins and tv discussions by condeming old firm culture. He admited this smugly as he didnt believe this hatred to be damaging to society any more than spiers does but couldn't admit this as it would damage his career as is case for spiers traynor leckie etc. The most postive aspect of this crises is a emergence of a powerful body of questioning fans, which will hopefully continue to grow and investigate the cloak of secrecy and manipulation of fans by vested interest within it, surrounding the national game.
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The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #886

  • Vandella
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Interesting article and I look forward to the book. He highlights very well the inherent silliness and fevered hysteria that surrounds Rangers, Celtic and what is supposedly 'Scotland's Shame'.

I'd be even more interested if Stuart Waiton looked a little deeper at some point, at the nitty gritty of the sectarian debate. As he points out, the upsurge in articles, interest and debate around sectarianism has risen dramatically in the past 15 or so years - a period of time in which Rangers (club and fans) have worked hard to eradicate sectarian singing, language and behaviour. And have done so with a large degree of success, I would say. And would it be fair to say that overall the crime stats for sectarian offences are low? Relatively low at any rate, compared with the figures for domestic violence for example?

So why has there been this overwrought, hammer-to-crack-a-walnut approach when not only is the problem not as dramatic as some make out ("A Rangers-Celtic game can sometimes be like a Sunday picnic"), but is arguably lessening?

The reasons given are all appropriate - middle class angst, the politicising of the sectarian 'problem', the industry that has been built around it. However, I feel that there is an avenue that isn't being explored and it's the rise in both volume and power of obsessed fans, specifically on the internet. I also don't think the anti-sectariansim industry is targetted equally at both Rangers and Celtic - it's not too big a leap to say that Rangers get a rougher deal. Because we have a bigger problem? Or because Celtic have a political and highly dedicated arm of their support who are obsessed with all things Rangers, obsessed with highlighting how 'bigoted' Rangers are, and who are very successful in getting their message out there whether it's true or not? The language they use tends to be picked up by the mainstream media, myth and fact are quickly distorted - throw in some hysterical media coverage and you have a potent mix.

Alas, I suspect Stuart Waiton has no real interest in getting involved at this level, but I wish he would. Someone with a sane and rational head with no bias toward either club looking at this issue would be a breath of fresh air. And I suspect, an eye-opener.
Last Edit: 9 years 4 months ago by Vandella. Reason: Typo
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The Strange Rise of Anti-Sectarianism 9 years 4 months ago #887

  • anguswalker
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I like this article. However I would like to point out to Stuart that to us Rangers fans, the "war"on sectarianism by the chattering classes was almost exclusively aimed at us and us alone. The Rangers hating Scottish lefty elite don't really have a problem with IRA songs and in fact the likes of Tom Devine and ex-MP Brian Wilson have been in courtrooms and press to defend such expressions.

I don't believe the SNP have the same one-sided agenda as Scottish labour re. the sectarian debate, despite the SNPs ludicrous bill.

Anyway, I'm glad Stuart's fighting this cause. I'm just sorry he wasn't about in the early to mid 2000s when the witch hunt against Rangers and their fans was in full swing and we had no-one to defend us.
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